Improve Your Life #23: Control and Flexibility in Your Life
Feeling that you have control over your life is a source of happiness and well-being.
But you also want the flexibility to balance the rigidity of control.
Most people want to have some level of control in their lives. In one extreme if you just let go, you might feel that you are the victim of life happening to you. At the other end of the spectrum, trying to control everything you are bound to fail as there will always be small deviations that you can not correct for.
How to improve your life by finding a balance between control and flexibility?
What is Your Current Reality?
First, you should have an understanding of reality. I will not go too deep into what reality is. For our purpose, the reality is some objective state of affairs that most people can agree upon. Reality should be detached from emotion and treated as a simple collection of facts. Some examples of questions about reality:
- Is your weight going up or down?
- Are you on track for that big project?
- Is your income enough for a new home?
If you have a firm grip on reality, then you are off to a good start to influence the outcomes you wish to achieve. Reality doesn’t care what you think about it, but if you don’t care about reality, then you may end up with a lot less influence over your environment and people around you.
The Limits of Control
When creating a plan, you must also understand that:
- your vision may be infinite, but
- your means are finite.
Understand the limits of your control, don’t worry about the things you can’t control and focus on the things you can influence. When you realize that our sphere of influence is not only finite but actually quite small, then you can relax about the things out of your control.
As we start to exert our control, we have to understand that there are two main ways to get to the results. First, there’s the control most people directly associated with the word control. You have a plan, and you see it through step by step.
Every deviation is a source of inconvenience and a potential source of frustration. If the times are calm and the task at hand is not too complex this type of control works pretty well. A trip to a shopping mall. Cleaning your room or a house. You allow for some deviation, but in general, there’s a routine you expect to follow without a hitch.
When things get more complex, this model breaks down. The model cannot cope with the myriad of variables changing the initial assumptions. Uncertainty is the weak part of the step-by-step plans and how-to guides.
Incredible change happens in your life when you decide to take control of what you do have power over instead of craving control over what you don’t. ― Steve Maraboli
This is where you think about how you want things to be. To get out of the fixed control model, it would be much more effective to focus on the result and the “why” of your activities. Why are you doing this? What result should your actions bring about?
Tight control is the opposite of flexibility.
Combining that with a narrow comfort zone is a recipe for disaster. If you try to control everything, you lose all flexibility, and this will decrease your overall happiness in life.
Uncertainty and Flexibility
Relaxing your grip on things brings you to flexibility and chaos.
As long as you have the result in sight and have the meaningful “why” to back it up the path to the goal may vary. When looking at the situation ahead of you, open and flexible thinking is the key. You will find more opportunities and different paths to achieve the goals you want. You may need more mental resources and feel less than “being in control,” but the potential for better outcomes is vastly greater.
Constantly test the boundaries of your comfort zone, as this is the only place where you learn and grow.
If you only do the things where you are in full control, then you stagnate, and your area of control shrinks.
To be in hell is to drift; to be in heaven is to steer. ~~George Bernard Shaw
The flexible approach of why of the situation also makes us think in higher categories than the how of direct control mindset. Research has shown that thinking in higher categories will also increase your willpower.
When planning assume optimism bias, try to set the goals that most advance your overall well-being and happiness. First, answer the why-question and then go into the more detailed planning of how you are going to get there. After the “why”, find the hows but do not limit yourself with a fixed set of tactics, remain as flexible as you can.
In the end, control is an illusion. A big part of our achievements is based on luck and favorable circumstances. On the other hand, this can also be said about our failures. We think we are rational and have control over our lives, but we can achieve that only by being more flexible in the situations that matter and can be influenced. Ignore the rest.
Here are the steps to get more influence over your life
Putting it all together into an actionable plan is what gives you a feeling of control. Of course, you have to start to execute the plan, or you won’t feel the structure it brings into your life.
Get a grip on reality
Ask yourself the hard questions and answer them honestly. If you are procrastinating then lay out the real reasons behind your reluctance to do what you need.
Understand why you want something
Reason or “why” you want to do it. What are the most important things in life for you. If you have a strong enough “why” then you are more motivated. There may be responsibilities that you have to do, the tasks you have to do for work or school. Add a strong “why” in the form of avoiding the negative outcome and motivate yourself with that. You can always motivate yourself with taking the task as an exercise to strengthen your willpower.
Plan the initial how and contingency
Get very clear what the next step will be. Deconstruct your task so that your first step takes 30 minutes or even less. Also, make a plan what you will do when you can’t do the planned step. For example, if you can’t make it to the gym, do pushups and squats for 20 minutes. Every time you complete a step, set the time for the next actionable step.
Be flexible, accept whatever comes
There will always be obstacles. When the situation changes then you adjust the plan. No plan is perfect, and you need to steer constantly to get to the result you are after.
No plan survives contact with the enemy. ~~Helmuth von Moltke the Elder
Give it your best and improvise
Sometimes you give it your best effort and still come up short. All anyone can ever ask from you is to give it your best effort. Maybe you need to put in more hours? But sometimes your 100% is not enough, and you need to reevaluate the reality of the situation.
Improvise, find new ways to do what you need to do. Combine different tools, find out what other people have done to get the results you are after.
In many cases, 30-day challenges are a good tool. By the end of the 30 days, you will have a much clearer understanding of what it takes to achieve your goal or build a new habit. You will also know if you are willing to pay the price to get it.
Your responsibility is not to slack off and put in the 100%. When something is not working, it’s always a good rule of thumb to assume that you are doing something wrong. Blaming weather, traffic, or the hard life you have is not going to move you closer to your goals.
Learn from experience
Learn what is working and what you should avoid. Understand what are the temptations and detractors that derail you. Build your routines so that you can avoid most of the things that may lead to failure.
Every time you do something you win some or learn some.
Now, be water, my friend.